Bill Laughlin was a friend of President Gerald R. Ford and was involved in the AEI World Forum in Vail, Colorado. Laughlin was interviewed for the Gerald R. Ford Oral History Project on December 2, 2008 by Richard Norton Smith.
Smith: First of all, thank you for doing this. I guess the most obvious question is, what does it feel like to be back in this room?
Laughlin: It feels fantastic, very emotional, I can see him pulling this chair up over there and pulling up very close, almost to knee, [and saying], “What’s on your mind?” And I can say, after ten or fifteen minutes, he’d lean back, “I have some observations for you.” It was beautiful the way it was so simple. And I don’t remember the subject, but it was wonderful.
I can remember another time – I probably shouldn’t talk about – when I came and he was in here, but Penny was gone and the other gal, Judy, she was gone, and he came tearing out. Oh, he was upset. Oh, God, “They don’t leave me anything to sign papers with, damnit.” And he was scrounging through the desk, then he went over to Penny’s desk, grrrr, “Got to find something to sign. How can I sign papers if they don’t…they steal all my things.” Something of that order. He was really incredible. That’s the only time I ever saw him a little upset.
Smith: It was sort of a legend, I guess around the office. Like a lot of folks of his generation, and I shouldn’t say just of his generation, he was not particularly computer literate.
Laughlin: That’s the way we’re supposed to be.
Smith: And I think machinery, generally, was not his friend. When did you first meet him? How did your paths cross?
Laughlin: I had a luncheon that was arranged in San Francisco with American Enterprise Institute. They were about broke, and they were trying to raise money at a club. I guess I gave them a little bit, but I went back and then I had an invitation from Washington to a dinner. I suppose I had another appointment on the East coast because I don’t think I would go back with an outfit I didn’t really know. At any rate, I went to this dinner and it inspired me. Chris DeMuth and Gerson inspired me, and I think I probably had maybe two bottles of beer and I gave them $200,000 because I thought they were a worthwhile – which to them was an enormous…they were holding on.
So I got invited – the way I met the President – to an early American Enterprise Institute meeting that President Ford sponsored.
Smith: Was that the World Forum?
Laughlin: The World Forum. It was wonderful. Julie will attest to the fact that – I went to meetings. I was a younger man, I had no education in business, so I went to every good meeting I could find. And I had been to many of the best at IBM and graduate schools like Stanford – I went with the young president for a week or two. When I went to this meeting I thought, my God, I have never sat at a table and the President is there – and across from him is the former president – my God. Helmut at this end from Germany and Jim Callaghan – wow, holy Toledo. I started watching.
Jerry was running everything and it was so quiet and so easily done. Discussions would come up and sometimes little arguments. He had a way of listening intently and knowing just when to add something, if he wished. If people were about to argue too heavily, he had a touch. And I’ve since read about it, but he started out as an Eagle Scout, and Congress and so on. But it was marvelous and I was impressed. And yet he was so quiet, he didn’t try to impress anybody, he was very comfortable within his own skin. So I started spending a lot of time observing what he was doing because leadership had started to fascinate me.
I got involved in all kinds of experiments in our own company and constantly had meetings. And there was no question in my mind – that was the best week I had ever had for a meeting. And I kept thinking of Jerry. Although he was quiet, for me he didn’t slam down, let everybody know – “Hey, I’m the boss, you’d better respect me.” So, anyhow, that’s where I met him and about the second year his wife invited me to lunch. They tried to have lunch with the guests. So I felt really good that I had lunch with Jerry Ford. Little did I know that he would become a great influence on my life through one way or another.
After four years, or, I don’t know, five years of those meetings, Jim Callaghan and I had become quite good friends, Helmut I had gotten to know better. Giscard, I never could get to know too well.
Smith: Let me interrupt – this is such, in some ways, a motley gathering. Jim Callaghan, who was a classic old-line British Socialist and Helmut Schmidt, who was certainly to the left of Ford’s politics, and yet they seemed to hit it off famously.
Laughlin: Oh – they were like brothers.
Smith: I would be interested in your observations. First of all, of how you thought the others looked upon President Ford – what their relationship was with him.
Laughlin: How they got along?
Smith: Yeah, and what they thought of him.
Laughlin: All of them – we played golf every afternoon with Gerson and some other guys, presidents of companies that are not doing well now. But everybody that I talked to just thought Ford was…whether they were Democrats or not – they thought he was wonderful. I do have a story to tell you later – which you’ll see a little different side of him – of somebody who didn’t like him, who was a world leader and international peace prize, Arias.
Well, I had an idea – we were going to lunch, Jim Callaghan and I had gotten to know one another better and better, and I had an idea. I turned to Callaghan and I said, “God, it would be fabulous, I can see it right now – a beautiful mansion, an old, old mansion outside of London in the country, where these four get together – no agenda, no press, no recording, no filming. They just get together.” And he said, “I say, old chap, that’s a good – I think – would it be alright with you if I take that to the boys tonight?” At five o’clock the boys, those four, always met for cocktails. Nobody else was allowed, and I said, “Sure.” Well, I couldn’t wait until our cocktail party started and Jim came over and he said, “Bill, it’s passed! We’re going to go to your house.” I had offered $100,000 to pay for whatever, or whatever it cost. I didn’t even think of that part. There was no effort at bribery – it was just that I could see something exciting happening. Wait until you hear what happened.
They went to a library and they just sat around and I sat up on a – the library had a little wall around it – and I sort of sat there and never said one word, and they sort of started getting in a dialogue. And it was incredible. It went on for four, maybe five hours. But it was inspiring. It was absolutely inspiring. If we wanted to do away with nuclear today, that’s the way to do it. Get a few very intelligent, well-read, well-experienced men and/or women, and we could do it. We’ll never do it at the United Nations or in big groups.
So I was like a kid. I was jumping up, and oh jeez, I can’t talk about this. Well, I can talk now a little bit about it. That evening at cocktail hour, the ladies, the wives started down the stairs, but fortunately at about five or ten minute intervals. The first one who came was Helmut’s wife and she said, “How did it go? How did it go?” I said, “It was unbelievable! Your husband – oh God, was he great! He was Alexander Hamilton.” “My husband was Alexander Hamilton – wow!” Man, she was so excited I just couldn’t believe it. Well, one of them, my memory is a little bad on the names – another one came down and it was Jim Callaghan’s wife, whom I’d gotten to know a little, and Jim was John Adams in my mind, or possibly, no it was John Adams. “My husband? Really?” Here they are, foreigners talking about American history. Then Giscard, I don’t really remember, but it was exciting. Well, Betty had had an operation and she was still here, she did not go. So I, very much like a kid, (Julie, when I returned, wasn’t I like a little boy?) Wow – and I’ve never forgotten that.
It was a great lesson to get experienced men, who have really been around and had enormous responsibility for war or peace or all kinds of things, to be able to sit together as friends and do what they did – without an agenda. These were important issues, going back into American history.
Now, I think that there is another story that I got to know Callaghan and Helmut even better. And this is where it sort of changed my life a little. With Callaghan, I’d been a guest at his house in the country, which was a thatched roof, leaking water all over the place, not enough money to repair it – and we were sitting there in the garden and I had been asked early: if anybody could ever get Margaret Thatcher and Jim together, you could. Well, thank God, his daughter was there and his wife, we were in a beautiful English country garden, and I brought that up and he went through the ceiling. Turned red, I thought he was close to a heart attack. So the daughter was there and she came to my rescue and the wife came to my rescue and we settled that forever. I had talked Thatcher into saying, “I’ll meet with him,” but, at any rate, I learned constantly from each of them in different ways.
Helmut, at a meeting – Jerry had a double knee operation and in that double knee operation he could not attend a meeting of these former heads of state – about thirty-five of them, InterAction Council. So he sent a letter that Kissinger couldn’t make it, but Helmut, you might remember Bill Laughlin because of Ditchley – that’s where we went – and Helmut did and Helmut invited – really, Jerry invited me. That’s where it changed my life – to get with – meeting as the only one with no credentials at all. I was a dishwasher and a pots and pans boy. So I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was invited…am I getting off topic?
Smith: No, that’s fine.
Laughlin: I was invited to this first meeting – Jerry was not there – I was like a little kid, I was so excited, but toward the end of the meeting I started getting bored and a little depressed. I said, “What’s wrong with me? What is this?” There were about forty- forty-five there, so I thought and thought, and “Ah-ha, I have it.” All they do is talk about problems. I’m an entrepreneur, I don’t care about problems – I find it exciting to come up with creative approaches. So Bob McNamara was there for one day as a guest, so I went to Bob and I said, “Bob, am I nuts, or is this worthwhile for all these people to get together to talk about the problems? Why not have time in smaller groups for solutions?” He said, “I’ll be damned. I’m supposed to be the whiz kid. I never heard of you, but I will never forget. Go ahead and talk to Helmut, he’s the chairman. But don’t talk to him if he’s sitting all by himself because he has a terrible temper and he’s very emotional.” So I did eventually talk to Helmut – I was invited back to another meeting as a civilian and I was told that Helmut wanted to see me at lunch time. So I went into a room and the first thing you know, there is some wine and a guy there to serve wine, and what the heck? Why does Helmut want to see me and what’s this about? So in comes Trudeau – there were six and finally Helmut came and he said, “Bill, Jerry thinks you’re a pretty good guy, and I think you’re really unique, you’re different than the rest of us.” I thought he was going to give a talk when we sat down. He said, “You’re to sit next to me,” he changed my chair next to me, “Tell us what’s on your mind.”
So I talked sort of like I’m doing now, I guess, a little nervously. And, I told them whatever ideas I had, and the next thing you know I was a member for life – the only non-head of state. Now, Jerry had changed my environment by moving this way, but the thing that Jerry did at the next meeting – he and I flew together. Penny arranged it – we flew together out of Los Angeles to Mexico, and went to a meeting there of InterAction Council. This was just another meeting, I thought, and they had not yet organized it to have solutions. But Arias from Costa Rica talked and he blasted America and after he finished it was very quiet. One guy raised his hand and Helmut started to call on him and Jerry said, in a very calm voice, “No, Helmut, no. I am taking the floor.” Now, I can’t remember exactly, but it was beautiful. I got tears. He talked about America. As a great historian, you would have loved it. He went through all the good things we’d done in the world. And everybody was so quiet, listening to every word and it was very articulate, very organized, from 1917, it could have been even a little earlier, but right through the Depression to World War II to Berlin, and when he finished, you could hear a pin drop.
But he finished with this, “Mr. Arias, you seemed to have ignored and forgotten history. You brag about what a wonderful country that you don’t need any army,” he didn’t say damn fool, but it sounded like it. You damn fool, “for God’s sake it was the American army and navy that protected you all those years. Sir, you’d better think about that.” And with that he finished and I want to tell you, wow. And when we went to lunch right after, our friend, his aide, always, whenever he flew or traveled, we just talked about it. He was sent to my table – I was with the president of Japan and his group – “Bill, the President wants to have you for lunch. Only you. Do you see him over there? There’s a table for two and an empty chair. That’s yours.” I said, “Really? Really?” So I walked over there, and as I started he said, “Listen, don’t call him Jerry today. Call him Mr. President.” It was beautiful, absolutely. The man was unbelievably – he was in control of his emotions, he never swore, he never raised his voice, he just went over a pretty accurate history, and that night when Helmut joined him for dinner, I did, Helmut and Jim Callaghan, and I think Trudeau, two others, I can’t remember for sure, but he wanted a small group. But here’s the closure: he had asked that his car be driven up to where we were going to have cocktails in a religious – a Catholic building of a hundred or more years, and it was beautiful. We had a cocktail. The road was cobblestone and it was very hard. They said, Jerry, you have to walk, and his knees still hurt. So he got there and we had maybe two drinks and then we came out.
There were thousands of Mexican people – thousands. Very low roof – no higher than that – lower almost than this picture, thousands of people. “President Jerry, President Ford,” (clapping hands) “Bravo.” They cheered, I’m walking behind Ford and I had tears running down, and it was chilling. The next night he had to go give a speech in Washington for the Press Club, and the next night Helmut took the lead. He couldn’t get one (clap). Helmut doesn’t like that. But the whole experience that he gave me to really use the creativity, maybe that I have on different things, was wonderful. And I’ve had a wonderful life, I will always look up to him and when I trace his history – if you go Eagle Scout five times, University of Michigan, he made a bigger impression than just his football – just as captain of the team. He was impressive all the way.
If you follow him along into the Congress and then as he slowly moved up the ladder in the Congress and then to the vice presidency, and then to the presidency, and then back to the gift every year that he named this meeting, every year of intellectuals, of statesmen, of political leaders, of people from all over the world discussing the problems of economics, the problems of the poor and whatever. It was marvelous and the fact that – I’ve been twenty years on the board at Hoover – and a group like that – it’s not very friendly. American Enterprise is very friendly and they loved Jerry. Everybody loved Jerry.
Smith: Who were some of the other folks on the board when President Ford was active?
Laughlin: I wasn’t on that board, but there were practically none – Julie you just mentioned two or three that came to visit me.
Laughlin: He was very young and I think he is chairman now.
I got very ill, so I haven’t been to one of those meetings for how many years? Five? Seven?
Smith: Now you mentioned Giscard was sort of the odd-man out in the quartet. Was he a little bit harder to know?
Laughlin: Very hard to know. He and I were having lunch some place and we were having a pretty good discussion, I thought, and a woman came along and he just dropped me without even finishing the sentence. I just felt, I don’t know how he fitted into that. And he also was the first one to drop out of the foursome. He was not at my last meeting. I can’t speak for him because I never had…with Callaghan, he had me up to the university, what’s the name of that?
Laughlin: Swansea. What’s the big one – the whole state that he’s from?
Laughlin: Wales, and he gave me an honorary degree at Wales, and all I did – he asked me to give a talk on leadership. I used a lot of Jerry Ford on leadership. And as a result, the students gathered together and did what I suggested, and they started going out to poor people and helping them. And it went from Swansea to the University of Wales, where he went. So he and I were really very, very close and I knew him a lot better, in a way, than Jerry. Because one thing I would never do is take advantage in any way of a friendship. I think that is crude and rude and stupid.
Smith: How frequently would you see the President in and around the desert?
Laughlin: Not very frequently. I do know, because I purposely looked for that. He was incredibly well-known for his constant effort to help fundraising activities and good organizations. He and his wife were involved in everything and I have a very strong feeling when somebody like President Ford has done such an incredible job in his lifetime, that people like me should not, in any way intervene, or try to win over friendships – I just wouldn’t do it. We would have to have a reason.
I called Helmut and all I will say is that when Jerry died, that he was incredibly emotional. I got a lot of time with Helmut because I was a problem-solver. I could solve problems. I didn’t have particular things to problem-solve, Jerry knew how to take care of the whole community and do all these things, and so I got along very, very well with Helmut on that basis. I got along tremendously with the president of Japan, Fukuda-san. And, in fact, I had Julie get a coat for his 88th birthday – as the big one – a beautiful, like a black leather – it was way too big for him – he’s a little guy. He had all heads of state from Asia at that birthday party and my present was the only one allowed to be opened in the big room. And he went berserk, it had a big Japanese sun and had America all over it, and he loved fun. I used to go after meetings with him for a couple of hours.
Now with Jerry, I just think we had a relationship of respect and care and I was very, very aware of all the people that he knew that maybe he hardly knew, that he was polite to – he was such a wonderful listener and gentleman. But it just so happened, he more or less didn’t come – he was getting older – to the meetings anymore and my hunch was that he left that part to me. Somehow.
Smith: Did you get to know Mrs. Ford at all?
Laughlin: A tiny bit. I met her there and I met her here and she had lunch for my wife and myself over at their house. The couch used to be over here. And, anyhow, my wife, on my advice, said come informally and I damned near got killed. She had on new tennis shoes, and Mrs. Ford got all dressed up, and oh my God, oh did I catch it.
Smith: Tell me about the personal qualities of the President. He had a sense of humor…
Laughlin: He had a sense of humor – a tremendous sense of humor. He was a great listener. He had a quality of leadership about him that you just sensed – at least I thought I sensed it. That day I told you about when he asked me to talk about what I was thinking of, my God, you could practically feel him absorbing what I had to say. When I talked to him in the airport or on the airplane, or we flew back from Europe together, he was very tired. He had a bad mattress, and was very tired from that experience in England. We talked, but never about political issues, or about…I guess I probably talked a lot about management and organization and how to get things done through people and I never felt strained. I never felt I was going too far.
Smith: Do you remember the last time he went to the World Forum?
Laughlin: No, I don’t, because I wasn’t there. I had the same problem he had. I had an oxygen problem – had to go to the hospital – how long was I not able to go? Five years?
Julie: At least five years in Beaver Creek.
Smith: Tell me about Beaver Creek, because for years, certainly towards the end of his life, their friends were urging the Fords not to go every summer. And they were adamant – they obviously loved the place, and I gather they were loved there. They were really part of the local community. Just describe the place.
Laughlin: Well, when I heard that he was going there, and I had seen he had been in the hospital in Philadelphia, was it? I thought he should not go because I had had this problem myself and still sort of have a little bit of it.
Smith: And how would you describe the problem?
Laughlin: It’s a hard problem. In my case, with fibrillation, so I have a hard time breathing. I get very weak, I stagger.
Smith: And altitude obviously effects it.
Laughlin: Altitude – I went back a second year and I was in the hospital the night I got there. I checked into the hotel and I was in the hospital. Incidentally, I had the same doctor he had. Not there, but at Mayo. The way I thought about, I should call him, and then I thought, “No, I’m not close enough. He’s not buddy-buddy.” I don’t run around telling everybody I know President Ford. I did tell some people, “I don’t think he should go.” I think it was a bad mistake, but on the other hand, he and his children and his wife had been there years ago from Grand Rapids, I guess, skiing, with their Golden Retriever, and they just had a wonderful time. Those cocktail parties they had on their porch every night for our group were just fantastic. They were relaxed.
Smith: Tell me about the house.
Laughlin: I never went inside the house – never. I went down with Penny – I’ve always been very, very careful not to, in any way, invade the privacy of someone like that. I have had people at a very high level that I’ve known better – well, Callaghan and Helmut. I can’t really say that I know Helmut better. To me, Jerry Ford was very superior to that whole group. He was the ultimate in leadership. If you study leadership and the psychology of it and the administration of it and the techniques and the creativity and the humanness, the most important thing of all, is caring for people, I believe. Caring – especially for those down lower. Jerry Ford had that.
Smith: How did you see that expressed?
Laughlin: In every action that I ever saw him make publicly and the way he ran the meeting. In the way he met people, it was very warm. The way he was criticized in Mexico, the way he told the American story – from his heart – and the way at the end he criticized, he didn’t swear or raise his voice. It was a little sarcastic, like maybe you should know better, but I think that, for example: there are twenty-one airlines in America. One airline alone, which is relatively new, only twenty-plus years old, if you took the stock of that one company, it is worth more than all the others together. It’s Southwest. And if you ask or follow a career like the founder and president, he was not unlike Jerry. He was 80% – they asked him in his farewell retirement, what did you do? He said, “I didn’t do anything. Our people did.” And if you went around Southwest where the black baggage man is and say, “Hey, did you ever meet the head…?” “Oh, my God, yes. He stops by every couple three weeks and we talk about his kids and my kids.”
There is a caring attitude that Jerry Ford had, you couldn’t do that as president of the United States, but that’s how he got ahead in Congress. That’s how he got ahead as a Scout. I did not mention AEI’s headquarters, those scholars, and you must know this, they loved him. If you go to Hoover – I have to be very careful here – Hoover is great. Tremendous scholars, unfortunately, we have a new organizational concept which I think is going to change things forever. But you go there, there is the sun camera, there is a little mildew in the library next door, and it gets over there and it’s not so easy – last time I was there, because of my illness, I’d just gotten over pneumonia.
I have not been there for quite a while, but the last time was in the spring with the commanding general of our Middle East forces, talking about the big bomb and what the odds are. And he was light and fluffy and full of fun and we had a great talk. We sat together very closely, and we agreed on most everything, but he did make a little comment. “Boy, it’s a little heavy around here, isn’t it?” (sniffing) And it is a little different. It’s well-run, though. Well-run. It’s just that it seems to me that they have a lot more fun with Gerson and with their presidente. So that’s something that Ford had, not to the extent that the Southwest guy had, because you couldn’t in that kind of a job.
Smith: Do you remember the last time you saw him?
Laughlin: No, I don’t remember the exact last time. About a year and a half, two and a half years ago now. It’s odd that I had the same nurse that he had, the same doctor here. I can’t remember.
Smith: Had his health deteriorated at that point?
Laughlin: Yes, the last time. And my health did also. They wanted me to come to that meeting I designed for InterAction Council…
Laughlin: Yeah. The doctors wouldn’t let me go. They said I’d be dead before I got there. Now my doctors tell me if I really watch it I can go to one in Saudi Arabia next summer. But it seems maybe odd that I say it was so wonderful to meet him, he inspired me. I observed him. I spent a lot of time observing leaders. What are they so good at? And I’ve never seen anybody run a big meeting close to what he could do. Sixty, eighty people, all big wheels. In my office people listen to me.
Smith: Maybe because he was so self-effacing.
Laughlin: That’s the best word. He was. He was very humble for a man of such success.
Smith: Did you ever play golf with him?
Laughlin: I never played golf with him. My wife and I saw him when he came out to the Bing Crosby from the White House, and he was late and he fit it in. And we waited for him on one hole and he hit the ball way in the rough. No, I never did play. Looking back, I sort of regret that I didn’t – I wasn’t a little more forward – I was, at that time, I was president of the World Presidents’ Organization, and I was in the State Department as an advisor at a high level.
In fact, one night I wore the wrong suit to dinner. They said get all dressed up, so I got my Irish suit, and afterwards the undersecretary asked me to come and have a cocktail with him and some other guy and a couple of staff. They said we have some private things to talk about, would you go to the bar with these two young people? And they said, “When you come and the President is coming over here you’re supposed to wear blue.” And this was Irish brown tweed, I think. Wow.
Smith: Tell me one last thing. Describe the, for lack of a better word, the charitable landscape of the desert. The Fords were clearly quite active, quite visible, as you indicated, in a number of causes. How does that work?
Laughlin: Well I think it works well because people are coming from all parts of our country here. And in their hometown or their home region, they have a Boys & Girls Club, so they come here and they want to engage.
Smith: Is there a season of the year?
Laughlin: Oh yes. I definitely think. Let me give you a different example on the same subject. I, at Hoover, suggested to them – when I first got on the board, it was a mess – the president of Stanford, the head of – oh, they fought.
Smith: Glenn Campbell?
Laughlin: Glenn Campbell. So I suggested they needed a public relations group of the board. Have a new group – a fundraising group. And that was the beginning. I had a number of other suggestions later. Well, in the fundraising – nobody showed up for the first meeting, I was the only one in Washington to show up, and I told John Raisian, I said, “John, look, if I ever ask you to have board members in a meeting, they’d better be there. I’m an easy guy, but I don’t come all the way to Washington to just sit here by myself. And they have to do all the work, anyhow, because I am more creative.”
Anyhow, they didn’t do very well, and so I went to a board meeting and I said, “Look, what you’ve got to get in your head for your professionals, go where the money is. It’s not going to be in Sun Valley in the winter because the wealth can be there, but they ski all day, they want a cocktail, a quick dinner and go to bed. They’re tired. Go to the desert. Go to the best country club down there – the richest. And the same thing in Florida, in Palm Springs, Florida, and you will be surprised.” So they went to the vintage, it’s become unbelievable. And now that’s been, how many years ago? Long ago. We have now a record 140 trustees, a number of billionaires – so the desert is the place where you can bring a think tank down here because, look, they play golf January and February. If you hit it late in February or early in March, they’re bored. They want two or three days – so bring George Schultz, your superstars and you’ll win.
Well, the desert has a number from almost every group that come here, wealthy people. And when they come they give money to foundations, they give a lot of money to foundations. If you look at the hospital, there are about 300 people who give $250,000 because they used creativity. The creativity was simple: if you give $250,000 or $50,000 a year, they take seven of their best nurses, full-time, so if you got sick, you’ll have an ambulance take you right, the nurse will be waiting, you’ll get your beautiful room, you’ll get President Ford’s room or someone like that, and there will be a doctor there. It so happens two years ago they lost $27 million from people who didn’t pay their bills. It offsets it. If people who come here already – a certain percentage – love charity, they love to help people.
Smith: Five minutes.
Laughlin: Five minutes to go? Can I hold out?
Smith: You’re doing just fine.
Laughlin: Penny said you’re a great guy. She didn’t build it up enough.
Smith: Tell me, for people who didn’t know him, people who never met him, or he’s just a name in a textbook, or maybe they saw a film clip when he died, what’s important for those people to know about Gerald Ford?
Laughlin: What a marvelous, caring humanitarian he was. What a marvelous team member he was. Team in Congress, team in the White House with all, an ability to get along with the other party. I think it’s very important to know that you don’t have to have an outgoing personality, a rah-rah-rah kind of thing, that he had a lifelong career from Eagle Scout to work toward this. And during every one of those years, they were learning years where mistakes were made, but from the mistakes is a new idea – a new way of doing things.
Smith: I had a very clear sense that they really made an effort, as much as they could, to have younger people around them. You live in a bubble, and people who only see you through that bubble are afraid to approach. They only see you in the official capacity. It’s almost a prison of sorts – that fame and celebrity and wealth, and certainly all of the trappings that go with being a president or a former president. I wonder if they ever felt, in some ways, cut off from the kind of natural interchange that I think they enjoyed.
Laughlin: I never got that impression. That’s another reason I didn’t try a little harder, because I felt they already had their lifelong friends. I think that’s important that everyone have close friends, and I just made an assumption. I had a different situation, say with Margaret Thatcher, that I met through another group I was in. She and I hit it off right away, and we got to talking about a project and I was very forceful with her. In fact, don’t we have a picture showing me with her, where she is pointing at me like this and I’m pointing at her? I think there was something about his personality…he was an American I really admired so much. I know what it’s like to have too many things to do. I regret, in a way, now that I’m talking to you, I’m regretting it a little more every moment that I didn’t push harder.
Smith: Was he a workaholic?
Laughlin: I think so. I would be pretty sure. Work, work, work, work. And I just can’t think enough about how fortunate we are in our country to get people like that. I think all too often our media destroy people. In a job like that, they make mistakes – you have to make mistakes. And it gets to be a more public relations for a particular point of view of the Left or the Right. Where I would prefer that we chase hatred away and have love, and bring that love to a marriage to bring children up so the children understand values and caring about people. And I think Ford was sort of like that. But I think if I tried to explain it that way, I don’t know…what do you think he would do?
Smith: I know what you’re saying. Emotionally, he never left Grand Rapids.
Laughlin: He never left.
Smith: No, and the example of his parents was a very powerful one. I think all of his life.
Smith: And that’s a perfect note on which to conclude.
Laughlin: You’re greater than I thought.